Livin’ On Prayers and Passion: A South Philly school makes music despite obstacles

Photo by John Vettese

Located in a high-need section of South Philadelphia, the Andrew Jackson Public School had been without a music education program for thirty years.

That was, until the arrival of Chris Argerakis. He has since introduced drumsticks and guitar picks, rooting rock in Andrew Jackson’s curriculum.

Joining the teaching staff five years ago, Argerakis has acted to build a program to provide a practical music education. He does so in spite of a shoestring budget from the School District: $100 for the year.

“I could teach the kids out of a textbook or I could try to get them instruments. I went with what I could put in the kids’ hands,” he says. Though as budgets continue to be slashed, the program’s long-term future is uncertain.

A native of Northeast Philadelphia, Argerakis was educated in public schools before attending The University of the Arts, which he says was crucial to his development as a musician.

Mural in the music hallway of Andrew Jackson School | Photo by John Vettese

After graduation, Argerakis moved to Los Angeles to score for films. He was an apprentice for two composers while finding independent work for cinema and theater. But after eight years, Argerakis returned to his hometown to pursue a graduate degree in music education from his old alma mater.

“Teaching had always been on the backburner,” he says, “I started on a whim. My neighbor overhead me practicing when I was 19 and asked if I could teach her daughter.”

After finishing grad school – during which the instrumentalist cemented his interest in musical instruction – Argerakis quickly found the post at Andrew Jackson and has been employed there ever since. And for teacher and students, ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade, these several years have been extremely valuable. Continue reading →